ST. LOUIS – The lieutenant governor of Missouri has decried the recent decision by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to sue the city of Ferguson for reneging on the agreement between the two bodies as an “outrageous overreach” by the federal government.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder called the suit “nothing less than an assault on the taxpayers of Ferguson” as the city decided Tuesday that it would reject an agreement between the city and the department to reform its criminal justice system. After the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, the DOJ found that despite the fact Officer Darren Wilson of the department committed no wrongdoing, it also found the department’s policing practices were “unconstitutional,” racially biased and created “clear racial disparities that adversely impact African-Americans.”
The DOJ and Ferguson came to an agreement on rectifying some of those problems by forbidding arrests without probable cause and installed oversight from the federal government, but the city council determined the changes would become too expensive and altered the terms of the deal Tuesday night expecting a lawsuit from the DOJ. The major change essentially would have allowed Ferguson to disband its police force and absolve itself of financial responsibility for the city’s policing.
“We strongly believe that this agreement, with the modest changes approved by the council last evening, achieves the goals of this consent decree,” Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said after the council meeting.
That prompted a lawsuit from U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
“Residents of Ferguson have suffered the deprivation of their constitutional rights — the rights guaranteed to all Americans — for decades,” Lynch said Wednesday. “They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer.”
Now, the second highest elected official in Missouri, and the only statewide Republican official, has criticized DOJ.
“Ferguson leaders are making a good faith effort to adopt reforms to correct past problems,” he said in a release. “But the Justice Department demands would force the city to stop providing basic services to residents to pay for mandated wage hikes. Even then, the ongoing costs would threaten to bankrupt the city. That’s why the City Council voted unanimously to add conditions to its acceptance of most of the DOJ demands.
“The Justice Department’s response was to sue the city to enforce its draconian mandates. As far as Obama’s Justice Department is concerned, if Ferguson won’t accept an agreement it can’t afford, it now must fight a lawsuit it can’t afford.”
State representatives from the area disagree, arguing that regardless of the cost of the reforms, the costs to the city if they fail to uphold the agreement will be even worse.
“I understand the city believes it cannot afford to implement the reforms demanded by the Department of Justice, but it also cannot afford a lawsuit that could cost millions, and the people of Ferguson certainly cannot afford for the city to continue to ignore the blatant injustices committed by law enforcement,” Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis, D-Ferguson, said.
Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack agreed.
“It’s extremely disappointing to see the city council refuse to do the right thing by reforming a police department that has committed violations the justice department described as expansive, deliberate, egregious and routine,” Walton Gray said. “The people of Ferguson deserve better and my colleagues and I will not rest until the people of Ferguson have law enforcement officials they can trust and respect.”
Updated Feb. 12 10:10 a.m.: Added comments from Reps. Walton Gray and Curtis.